Philadelphia is located in the First Civil District of Washington County about one mile north of State Highway 107 and one-half mile east of the Greene County line. In the early days of the community, when a post office was there, Philadelphia was called Pilot Hill. Pilot Hill is the highest point in the area and was a landmark for travelers when roads were few and primitive.
The Old Stage Road was near Philadelphia and crossed the Nolichucky River at a ford near the home of Lawrence Glaze. In 1912, a bridge was built near the ford by E. N. “Pop” Matthews and was originally named Glaze Bridge, but the name was changed about 1920 to Smith Bridge.
By 1840, Philadelphia was populated by many of the county’s pioneers including the Walters, Winkle, Glaze, Painter, Bitner, Miller, Copp, Burgner and Broyles families. Many descendants of these families live in the community today.
Community life in Philadelphia has centered around the general stores and the Presbyterian Church for 140 years. The first store was probably built by George Walters whose father, John, moved to Philadelphia about 1840. John Walters purchased a grist mill and saw mill on Horse Creek (in Greene County) from Rebecca Rimel. He also built, in the 1840’s, the oldest house still standing in the community.
George Walters operated a general store and was Pilot Hill’s postmaster for many years. The present store building was built in the late 1800’s by George’s son, William. William was also postmaster of Pilot Hill and the community druggist, having been taught by country doctors to fill prescriptions.
In the early 1900’s, William Walters used the barter system, which allowed customers to trade chickens, eggs, rabbits, wheat, corn and ginseng for merchandise. If the customer’s trade-in was worth more than the merchandise he needed, he would receive a “due bill” which he could return later and trade for needed items. Walters would take the chickens and rabbits traded by customers to Limestone to be shipped by train to New York. When merchandise was needed for his store, he would take his wagon pulled by horses or oxen to Limestone to pick up the goods shipped from Greeneville by train. The store is now owned by William’s son, Clyde Walters, and operated by Ross Brown.
Other businesses in Philadelphia over the years included a general store operated by Bill Jenkins and later by Register Walters; a general store operated by Hubert Painter for many years; Cody Heninger’s barber shop and Millard Furches’ blacksmith shop.
Philadelphia School served the community for many years until it closed in 1938 and consolidated with Liberty, Mount Carmel and Enon into the new South Central School on Highway 107. The school had eight grades and stood on a hill behind the Presbyterian churches. The county paid the teachers’ salaries and bought the coal for heating, but the PTA supplied the other needs. Water for the school was supplied by a spring across the road, and each school boy was always eager to go get a bucket of water. The last teachers at Philadelphia School were: Clarice Fulkerson, Kate Broyles and Dooley Graybeal, principal.
As Jacob Copp mentioned “the old meeting house” in his will of 1842, there must have been a church in Philadelphia prior to the formation of the Presbyterian Church, but no record can be found. The Philadelphia Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in 1847, and in 1912 the Presbyterian Church USA was built beside it. The two churches share the same cemetery that dates back to at least 1844 when Adam Harmon, a Revolutionary War soldier, was laid to rest.
The newest church in the community is the Philadelphia Church of the Nazarene, organized in 1942. The first pastor was Mrs. J. W. Schwartz and the second pastor was Mrs. Fannie S. Garber, who served the church for thirty-four years.
The first automobile in the area was owned by Charles Lockner, Phillip Lockner and Lee Sanders. Other early automobiles were owned by Ward Durman, O. J. Fox and William Walters. Several cars began to appear in the community after World War I, but roads remained primitive. Chains were required for travel during wet weather when the roads were muddy and full of ruts. In the late 1920’s, gravel roads made travel easier and residents made more frequent trips to Limestone, Greenville and Johnson City, although everyday necessities continued to be available at the local general store. – contributed by Bill R. Fox
References: Newspaper clippings, personal interviews with Ross Fox, Clyde Walters, Eva Reeser, Mary Catherine Crum, Kate Broyles, Mrs. Anis Painter and Mrs. Lyle Broyles.